Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Social Distortion Concert Review: When Your Favorite Band Lets You Down

Concert: Social Distortion @ Pop's Concert Venue (Sauget, IL)
Saturday, April 28, 2012

I’m not in the negative review business.  I always feel mean after I write something negative.  Besides, who am I to criticize someone’s creation and/or expression?  If you’re interested in my thoughts enough to read my blog, or check out my radio show, I’d rather spend that time, sharing love and positivity and hopefully turning people on to things that excites me.

But, having said that…what do you do when your favorite band of all time – that one band you love with all of your heart and soul – lets you down?

For me, that band is Social Distortion.

I fell in love with Social Distortion in 1992 when they had a minor MTV hit with “Bad Luck” from their “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” album.  (For more on my love of Social D, check this previous blog post).  I’ve been fortunate to interview Mike Ness two separate times and met him in person once.  As I told him one of those times, no matter where I was in my life, or what I was going through, the music of Social Distortion was always there for me.  No other band has meant as much to me for so long.

I saw Social D in concert Saturday night for the sixth time (not counting two Mike Ness solo shows).  The last time I saw them, early last spring, they were touring behind what I consider to be their masterpiece record, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes”.  That show was the best I’d seen them give and one of my favorite concert experiences ever.  (Read that review here).

Each year for the two years prior to that, they came to St. Louis and delivered great sets.  These two sets were designed to show that no matter how old Mike Ness might be getting (he turned 50 a few weeks ago…not a welcome age for a rebellious punk rocker), they could still ROCK. 

Then last year, they were there to say they had nothing more to prove.  So they loosened up.  They experimented with arrangements.  They played many obscure songs from far back in their catalog.  They had FUN. 

I went into the show this past Saturday hoping for more of the same.  But it was not to be.

Social Distortion always enters the stage in a different way for each tour.  Saturday night, the electric strains of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” (the killer “Hard Again” version with Johnny Winter), filled the air, along with smoke from a smoke machine, and the blinking and twinkling of all of Mike Ness’s onstage vintage toys.  It was a pretty cool build-up.  The rest of the band got into place and Mike came out a few seconds later. 

Right away, something was different.

Usually, Mike Ness - the only remaining member of the original group - makes a grand entrance and OWNS that stage.  Saturday night he simply strolled out with his hands in his pockets, made a slight bow at the front of the stage, and grabbed his guitar.  No charisma or even attempt at charisma, whatsoever.  I thought it was odd, but figured (hoped) maybe this was one of those shows that was all about getting down to brass tacks.

For the first third of the set, Mike didn’t say a word.  The band plodded through a greatest hits set.  Familiar song after familiar song.  Same old same old.  Nothing special.  No excitement. 

Mike’s between-song banter is usually a badass, funny jive that’s all his own.  When he finally spoke up Saturday night, he rambled through unfocused and pointless speeches.  His stories usually have a punch line.  Or at least some punch.  Nothing had much of a point – or any punch – Saturday night.

I won’t disparage the band’s performance too much.  They hit all the notes.  But that’s just the problem…they just hit all the notes.  They just went through the motions.  There was no passion behind any of it.  You sensed they were ready for it to just be over with.

Two thirds of the way through the set, I grew tired of the moshing, fights, beer throwing, and crowd surfing around me, and left the stage area.   Normally, I’ll put up with that stuff and risk hearing damage, just to be close to my favorite band.  But Saturday night, I couldn’t take any more. 

Here, in the slightly roomier and much cooler back of the hall, I began to think about ducking out early and heading to my buddy’s birthday party (I’d left the festivities early to take in the concert).  As much as I enjoy hanging out with my best friend, to suggest leaving a Social Distortion show before the last note’s been played would have been blasphemous prior to Saturday night. 

I stuck it out.  I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t leave.  I already felt old and uncool enough for moving to the back of the room; I just couldn’t swallow my pride enough to leave early.  However, I don’t feel that I’m any better off for that decision.

Social Distortion has been my favorite band since I discovered them at the age of 14.  I will forever maintain that spending some time in the same room as people who make music that means this much to you is always a miraculous and special thing.  So Saturday night wasn’t a BAD experience.  It just wasn’t a great one. 

I’ve been hearing for the past few years that Mike Ness is interested in making an acoustic record with Social Distortion.  I also heard recently that he’s excited about the possibility of incorporating more old-school soul sounds into their music.  I hope they’ll continue to explore what it means to be an aging “rootsy” punk rock band and how an iconic group like Social Distortion can enjoy the autumn of their career. 

It’s important to me that I point out that nothing else in my life - no single person, no institution, and certainly no other musician or band - has ever gone as long as Social Distortion without once disappointing me.  20 years without a single let-down is quite a feat. 

Please note: This was a tough blog post for me to write.  I wrestled with this piece ad nauseam.  I’ve done my best to share some critical thoughts on a band that means the world to me, and to present these thoughts from a place of genuine love, respect, and appreciation.

Here’s hoping to a lot more years of great music from the mighty Social Distortion.

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